5

In the sentence Ich wusste, dass aus dir mal was wird (see this question), "wusste" is in past tense and "wird" is in present tense. Why is this grammatically correct? I thought it would be either:

  • Ich wusste, dass aus dir mal was wurde

where both parts are in past tense, or

  • Ich wusste, dass aus dir mal was würde

where it's Konjunktiv II, because we are talking about a hypothetical scenario irrealis, or even the same in futur

  • Ich wusste, dass aus dir mal was würde werden

compare English: I know, that something was going to develop out of you, which is sort of past future tense as well, although not a pretty sentence.

6

In German, you don't have what is known as the Sequence of tenses. Sequence of tenses means that when you change the tense of the main verb of the main clause (wissen, in your example sentence), the tense of verbs in all subordinate clauses has to change, too (werden, in your example).

Therefore, in English you get the following minimal pair:

I know you'll be successful.

I knew you'd be successful.

Since the main verb of the main clause is in the past tense, the main verb of the subordinate clause has to be as well.

For German, talking about the future (from the point of view of a past verb) always goes with simple werden:

Ich weiß, dass mal was aus dir wird.

Ich wusste, dass mal was aus dir wird.

For cases where the subordinate clause refers to events that happen at the same time as the main clause, things aren't always that clear:

Er wünschte sich, dass es regnet. (Good)

Er wünschte sich, dass es regnete. (Weird)

But:

Er wusste, dass es regnet. (Good, I think)

Er wusste, dass es regnete. (Also good.)

I can't tell you for sure why this is sometimes okay and sometimes not.

|improve this answer|||||
  • a) Ich wusste, dass es regnen würd'. b) Ich wusste, dass aus dir noch was würd [werden]. These are pretty much homophone. Maybe that's the reason and we only stress the difference when it matters. I mean, if I became something good, there's reason to hoping that something more will come. There's a combination of tenses that means the action has finished, which is avoided in b). – vectory May 12 '19 at 13:03
4

It's a fact, so Konjunktiv II does not apply. Because it's not indirect speech neither does Konjunktiv I.

But let's use a simpler example without the tricky werden. The main clause is in Präteritum, so this is story time. Let's also assume the story plays in the future, to avoid further misunderstanding.

Rhodan wusste, dass das so nicht geht.

"Rhodan knew it does not work that way." And that's a fact.

Rhodan wusste, dass das so nicht gehen wird.

"Rhodan knew it will not work that way." Anyone who tries will fail.

|improve this answer|||||
  • 1
    Interestingly, that construction ("Rhodan knew it will not work that way") is invalid in English, as far as I can tell. – Numeri says Reinstate Monica May 11 '19 at 20:26
  • I can't tell the opposite. English tenses don't come natural to me. – Janka May 11 '19 at 21:35
  • @Numen. It's ok English. Similar to: Shakespeare knew that we will never be more than an intelligent animal. In my perspective Shakespeare is in the past so 'knew' but what we may or may not become is still in the future from my perspective, thus the 'will'. The grammar is fine. The meaning is a bit strange since how can i say that Shakespeare knew something which I cannot know yet myself since it's in the future. – S Conroy May 11 '19 at 22:05
  • @SConroy The use of "never" makes that feel more normal (because it allows "will" to emphasize that at no point, past, present or future, will it happen), but it still feels contrived/unnatural. I think most native speakers would use "would", the standard future-in-past tense in English: Shakespeare knew that we would never... and if they wanted to place the same emphasis on it, they could follow up with: "... and we never will." – Numeri says Reinstate Monica May 11 '19 at 23:53
  • 1
    @Numen. I was just trying to explain that it wasn't always ungrammatical. 'X knew that we wouldn't' is, of course, in most cases the right choice. – S Conroy May 12 '19 at 12:07
4

I knew that you are becoming someone.

In this sentence we are talking about two different time-zones:

  • In the past:
    I knew something.
    The thing I knew in those past days is an event in the relative future. Relative future means, that is was a future event from the past point of view.

  • Now:
    You are becoming someone now.
    This is happening now. This present is the future of the past.

That you are becoming someone, is a fact now. So there is no reason to use a conjunctive form. Indicative is the right choice, at least when you want to express in German, that you are talking about a present fact.

But is is allowed to use conjunctive. If you use conjunctive, you express, that it was a future possibility in the past.


Correction (Thank you, Numeri, for your comment)

Sorry, I missed the word "mal" in the original sentence. Everything I said above is true, when you omit the word "mal".

German present tense (Präsens) is different to English present tense. You can use Präsens to express ...

  • something that happens right now

    Du liest diesen Satz.

  • something that happens often, at any time, even if it maybe doesn't happen right now

    Jürgen betrinkt sich an jedem seiner Geburtstage.

  • something that is fact, independent from time

    Kugeln sind rund.

So far, so clear, but German Präsens also can do something you wouldn't expect from a present tense:

  • an historic event that happened in the past

    Als die Berliner Mauer fällt, sitzt Frau Merkel in der Sauna.

  • something that will happen in the future

    Ich gehe morgen zum Arzt.

Because of this flexibility of Präsens it is often unclear, at which time something is happening when you use this tense. For example:

Aus dir wird etwas.

This can mean:

present: You are becoming someone right now.
future: You will become someone sometime in the future.

But German has some temporal adverbs, that you can use to make it clearer, and mal is one of them. Mal is a colloquial short version of einmal. This means once, but line English once it does not always mean one times (in contrast to two times, three times, ...). It also can means sometimes.

When you use the adverb einmal or mal together with Präsens it refers always to something that will happen in the future.

So:

Aus dir wird mal etwas.

wrong (present): You are becoming someone right now.
correct (future): You will become someone sometime in the future.

|improve this answer|||||
  • Diese Auslegung des Satzes passt nicht so ganz, vor allem wegen des Wortes „mal“ im Originalsatz. Wenn „mal etwas aus dir wird“, dann ist das ausschließlich zukünftig, finde ich. – Numeri says Reinstate Monica May 11 '19 at 20:31
  • Thank you, Numeri, I corrected my posting. – Hubert Schölnast May 12 '19 at 5:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.